CMA Stories

“I am interested in the visuality of art as its own experience, as much as its potential for social change” — 5 Minutes with Artist Greg Lindquist

On Thursday, April 22 at 12 PM ET, artist Greg Lindquist joins CMA Associate Director of Programming Raquel Du Toit for a virtual artist talk and studio tour streaming live on CMA’s Facebook page. The following day on Friday, April 22 at 1 PM ET, children are invited to attend Club CMA with Raquel: Charcoal Paintings, where participants will use charcoal, paper, and pencil to create dystopian landscapes that have been affected by ecological issues. Read below to learn more about Greg and click here to learn more about his upcoming artist talk.

20 mo coloring, courtesy of Donna Lindquist photo album

Can you tell us about your art practice and how working with children inspires you?

I believe that while the artwork itself certainly cannot change the world in total, art practice and projects can and do work with larger social movements and struggles to glacially achieve change on a far larger scale than is capable with the efforts of any one artist acting alone as an individual. Art is historically determined by a multiplicity of elements and factors; therefore, it cannot be reduced to functioning simply as an agent or tool of “changing the real world.” Besides, I am interested in the visuality of art as its own experience, as much as its potential for social change.

Working with children is always inspiring — for example, the mural I lead in 2017. I think the most energizing part of a publicly created mural is observing the freedom of children in creating, especially the moments in which they recognize that they can make art, which is empowering and often has a lasting impression on the decisions children make in their educational paths.

Process, Smoke and Water: Catawba, acrylic on sheetrock, 14 by 120 feet

Tell us about your Rolling Coal project. When and where did your interest in environmental justice begin? 

While I was making the 2017 mural in North Carolina, I discovered the cultural practice known as rolling coal — that is, revving an engine to intentionally discharge plumes of diesel smoke for political statement and entertainment. In response, I began making several bodies of work over multiple modes of communication: an essay film (based on an article I wrote for an issue on carbon form for Log magazine) synthesizing found footage of rolling coal with my own adventure attending truck rallies with my environmentalist friend Drew Ball in search of someone interested in making paintings using the exhaust pipe as a paint brush; while also in my studio, I have been making paintings based on social media image-macro memes from truck culture about rolling coal. While I wish I would it have been making this work during my time at the Whitney American Museum of Art Independent Study Program (as I would have had far better individual meetings with faculty) I also paradoxically recognize that this work is a response to the thinking of those faculty, its director, and my fellow participants. Indeed, this is the “curse of the program,” as director Ron Clark has put it. 

Always obsessed with verbal language as well as visual, I have begun to think about this work under the larger idea of a “Slow Burn.” In this sense, “slow” signifies both a Southern genteel manner and pace of life, as well as the slowing down of a meme’s instantaneous consumption through the ponderous unfolding language of painting. “Burn” evokes coal, smoke, and is colloquial for an insult, while also a metaphor for the injury of both humans and nature. And finally, “slow burn” conjures both the glacial pace of social movements and environmental horror, as well as the systemic oppression of African American people and continued persistence of white supremacy and misogyny.

As a result of considering this broader descriptive term, I also have begun to question if the rolling coal work is actually part of the same project of 1898 — despite their appearance of being quite different, their underlying ideologies can be traced to notions of social and environmental justice, which I learned about working with activists in 2014. Since environmental justice emerged in 1982 in Warren County, NC as citizens marched and were arrested in non-violent protest against the forced siting of a PCB landfill, it’s appropriate I learned about this movement while I was visiting North Carolina.

Your 1898 Project dotted the roads of Wilmington with billboards leading up to the 2020 election. What inspired this project?

Last summer, my friend Reggie Shuford and I had a series of phone conversations. Reggie is a civil rights lawyer and activist, and also from Wilmington, but we didn’t meet until 2014 when I did a project with an organization on whose board he served. Reggie and I both wanted to read Wilmington’s Lies: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy by David Zucchino, so we agreed to read it together, but then decided it would be fun to make it into a virtual reading group. Reading and discussing the history of 1898 underscored its continued relevance and timeliness in the election (and as we know now, the resultant insurrection). Becoming obsessed with the events of 1898 as a lens to view our political and cultural moment, we both decided a Get Out the Vote campaign connecting 1898 to 2020 was crucial. Reggie believes that our efforts directly contributed to Wilmington’s county, New Hanover, going Democratic —  the first time in 44 years — and in concert with Wilmington’s Black Lives Matter activists I agree. We’re already thinking about how we can build on 1898 Project’s wide reception in social media and local press with more interventions in the 2022 midterm elections.

1898 Project, “1898. 2020. VOTE” Located at 319 EASTWOOD RD at an intersection of Wilmington’s main thoroughfare, Market St. (named for antebellum slave markets).This ad was displayed on both sides, in a grassroots Get Out The Vote campaign. October 27 – November 3, 2020

What advice would you give to young artists who wish to pursue an art practice?

Make art that challenges what you can tolerate as art and that forces you to grow. Make art for yourself. Read a wide variety of literature and theory. Don’t overthink it. Be prepared to be popular and then feel forgotten; have a huge stream of income, and then very little (find a day job you can tolerate, but not love as much as your studio practice). Make work that is aware of and responds to (rather than ignores or claims to transcend) our cultural and historical moment. Be aware of people’s interests and intentions when offering support for your work. Don’t feel afraid to make work that is as beautiful as it is just.

Decorating cake, courtesy of Donna Lindquist photo album

Do you have a favorite memory of making art as a child?

Lately I have been thinking about this a lot as I watch my 4-year-old nieces migrate from typical coloring books to some awe-inspiring and sophisticated drawings of unicorns, dinosaurs, and astronauts. I was given one such drawing with the clever instructions to share its joint ownership with my brother! I don’t think I had any ambition for what I made as a child to be art, but rather I was just actively creating. My mother would encourage me to draw, paint, decorate cakes, build things, make clothing. At the age of four, I drew on the wall behind the door to my parents’ bedroom and my mother didn’t want to paint over it until we moved. When I was 21, my mother and I cleaned out my father’s office at UNC-W where he taught and worked as a marine biologist, ichthyologist, and environmentalist. We moved a filing cabinet to reveal an additional series of drawings I had made probably around the same time. My first site-specific wall works, an intended time capsule: a favorite memory for sure.

Fish print, courtesy of Donna Lindquist archive

Why is it important to make art accessible to all children and families?

Accessibility is tied to ideals of equality — equal opportunity to an art education (and all of the possibilities it affords), and right now, on a broader cultural level, we are unfortunately seeing the persistent and divisive consequences of what a lack of cultural education and unwillingness to reconcile our country’s history of white supremacy. Of course, I am oversimplifying far more complex problems, but being the child of two educators, I cannot emphasize enough also the demystification of art and decoupling it from privilege. In other words, anyone can be an artist, regardless of race, class, or gender identity. An artist is not a cis male genius. I learned how to teach at a community college through an “introduction to art” class for those uninitiated to the Western Eurocentric narrative of art history. Because my audience was largely captive by the graduation requirement, I was forced to find new ways to think about, explain, and pique curiosity for these students. That said, it was inspiring to see some have moments of inspiration and excitement over the material.

First sculpture, 3-years-old, courtesy of Donna Lindquist photo album

If you could choose any artist to create a portrait of yourself, who would it be and why?

Having been the subject of a couple ebullient portrait paintings by my friend Hope Gangloff, and an intricately delicate pencil drawing portrait by artist and The Brooklyn Rail publisher Phong Bui, I’m at a loss for thinking of an artist within the traditional mediums in portraiture. My mind keeps trying to imagine what a video portrait by Martha Rosler would be like. Ultimately, if I could have any artist, living or dead, I’d likely say Piero della Francesa, out of the vanity and curiosity to see my facial structure depicted by his characteristic use of geometry to construct form.

Pictured Above: 1898 Project, “1898. 2020. VOTE” Located at 319 EASTWOOD RD at an intersection of Wilmington’s main thoroughfare, Market St. (named for antebellum slave markets).This ad was displayed on both sides, in a grassroots Get Out The Vote campaign. October 27 – November 3, 2020. Photo: Courtney Brown.

View more of Greg’s work at www.greglindquist.com and follow along at @greglindquist

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